“Name one fun fact about yourself.”

The new semester — with its host of icebreakers and probing questions — can be a nerve-wracking experience for introverted individuals. People who know me probably wouldn’t consider me introverted, given the huge volume of personal information I daily make available to anyone willing to listen, but nothing terrifies me like that one awful demand to disclose a “fun” fact. How am I supposed to know what fact about me is interesting enough to share with complete strangers? What if I divulge too much? What if I’m not even fun enough for a whole fact?

This is the sort of situation that only a walking knot of anxiety such as myself would fret over. I worry that my interests are too weird, my life too boring, my personality too dull — fears that haunt me even when the icebreakers are done. As ridiculous as it is to stress over such trivial matters, I worry constantly about how I appear to others, which is why one of my New Year’s resolutions is to stop caring about that and present myself honestly. No longer will I demure from the fun fact request: I will proudly provide a response, no matter how uninteresting.

The inspiration behind this decision came in a rare fit of honesty. I was asked that dreaded question in a small seminar class without any warning and, in a panic, told the group that I like to restore vintage toys in my spare time. This was indeed a fact about me, but it was hardly fun. However, as I braced myself for the subsequent wave of judgemental stares, I instead found myself the subject of several polite smiles and even a remark of “oh cool!” before we moved on to the next student. What had been built up as an apocalyptic disaster in my brain turned out to be completely uneventful. I told the truth about one of my bizarre interests and no one judged me for it. 

It’s almost as if anxiety is totally irrational.

To be fair to myself, I used to have a reason to abstain from sharing honestly. When I was younger, I was bullied relentlessly for talking about my weird hobbies and obsessions. I was the kid who read too many books and still played with dolls and dispensed trivia about absurdly obscure media to everyone I met. Getting glasses and wearing brown loafers to school everyday didn’t do me any favors either. Although I have since developed significantly better taste in fashion and managed to acquire just enough social grace to squeak by, I have yet to shake the taunting that followed me from middle school. I can never let a fun fact or an introduction or a first impression reveal too much about me and what I like without privately fearing that I’ll be tormented again.

When I gave my fun fact for the seminar class and wasn’t immediately dismembered by my peers — one of many worst case scenarios I formulate whenever I have to speak in front of people — I realized that my brain was still programmed for the hostile environment of primary education. College isn’t always the open-minded haven of hand-holding and acceptance that it’s often portrayed as, but I’m slowly learning that it is a far cry from the social battle royale that is public school. Having niche interests is no longer a source of ridicule, but a point of interest. It’s okay to be a little weird.

Caring about things is too often framed as uncool or unremarkable. As someone who has been dragged through the full gauntlet of unpleasant, traumatic life experiences, I can attest to how pointless and childish it must seem to be so passionate about something fictional or irrelevant. While it is important to remember reality and all the baggage that comes with it, there is an equal need to engage with the positive aspects of life. It is so easy to fall prey to the cynicism inherent to living in a society permanently on the verge of collapse: taking the time to care about something is one of the few weapons we have to fend off that crushing depression. Having interests is all we have sometimes and I don’t feel guilty about mine anymore — for the most part.

I like talking about myself. I like talking about my hobbies and my toys and my writing and my friends, and I want to talk about everything without fearing scorn or judgement. It will always be difficult to express myself sincerely thanks to the anxiety gremlins that hijacked my brain long ago, but I am working toward the goal of not feeling ashamed for being myself. A fun fact is a good place to start.